by Lorenzo Marsili
a global cryptocurrency named Libra,
which is expected to come online
in the first half of 2020
are increasingly encroaching
on the functions
of sovereign states...
The famous monologue from the film Network delivered by actor Ned Beatty in 1976 reflected growing anxiety at the time that corporate power could eventually overturn democracy.
Today, what was feared 40 years ago is becoming a reality.
The announcement comes at a time when the monetary policies of countries across the world have increasingly accommodated the interests of big corporations and the wealthy at the expense of ordinary people.
This has led to both unprecedented deregulation, which has caused repeated economic crises, and the subsequent imposition of severe austerity measures hurting the livelihoods of millions of citizens.
Facebook's Libra cryptocurrency initiative signals that this issue will assume even bigger proportions.
For millennia, one of the defining features of sovereignty has been the minting and circulation of state-specific currency.
But monetary policy isn't neutral:
Facebook has given its assurances to US lawmakers, claiming the company wants to "do this right".
But during a July 16 congressional hearing, Facebook executive David Marcus struggled to answer questions about how this new currency would be regulated.
Facebook's corporate executives,
who already have substantial power
by way of having access to large swaths of
data on billions of people, will acquire another
lever of control over the world - currency.
At the same time,
they will remain unaccountable to anyone
but themselves in the way
they manage monetary operations.
At the heart of the matter is the problem of decision-making and accountability.
Imagine, for example, what effect Libra would have on countries with unstable or weak currencies.
The prospect of sovereign power and political decision-making being shifted away from national capitals and to Silicon Valley is indeed real.
And it is not only Facebook that is pushing in this direction...
Corporations like Google and Amazon are building campuses that increasingly look like autonomous mini-states, with their own infrastructure, retail, social services and even shelters for the homeless.
Google also announced a billion-dollar housing investment plan in the San Francisco area, directly intervening in urban planning at a time when states are increasingly unable to guarantee their citizens' right to affordable housing.
Corporations are also increasingly able to mobilize their own "citizens" to shift public policy.
Corporations are also able to play states one against the other to remove regulations and provide large tax breaks.
Amazon, for example, has paid no federal taxes on $11.2bn of profits in 2018.
As the Cambridge Analytica scandal has already demonstrated,
Indeed, we are witnessing the birth of a new kind of planetary powers, boasting genuine state characteristics: global "corporate nations" that can extend their powers across the entire planet.
Traditional concepts of state sovereignty are becoming increasingly irrelevant as corporations encroach on state functions.
If today they are able to compete in information control, social provision, and currency circulation,
As the power and reach of "corporate nations" grow, this will continue to feed into another phenomenon characteristic of our time:
Weakened governments will increasingly resort to nationalism and xenophobia to rally support for their failing policies and pretend to "regain control" of the state.
Thus, the global crisis of democracy and liberalism will continue to deepen in the coming years.
Indeed, our future may look bleak, but there could be a silver lining to what is going on today. Perhaps the aggressive moves of corporations like Facebook could be a wake-up call for ordinary people and their leaders alike.
Libra might, finally, make us ask the right sort of questions.
The question, ultimately, is whether our outdated national politics can take back control over corporate nations and planetary challenges such as the climate crisis, migration or artificial intelligence.
It is time to recognize this common threat, unify, and take action together beyond the borders of our weakening nation-states.